I love it when I find a simple answer to my problem.
I couldn’t get my Stihl weed eater running this weekend, so I took it to the repair shop. I have this problem at least once each year and knew what would happen next. The guy at the counter easily starts the machine but agrees that something must be wrong if I’m having trouble. He tells me to come back in two weeks to pick it up. Now I feel like a pansy, I’m spending $60 to fix something that might not be broken, and the weeds will be rampant by the time I get it back.
Only it didn’t turn out that way. Rather than mutely passing the device across the counter, I told the sales person what was bothering me. First, I said, I’m doing everything you guys told me last time – setting the choke when it’s cold, pulling firmly on the starter cord, blah, blah, blah. But sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, and it is completely random! Plus when I get too near a rock the cutting line cuts off inside the spool. I have to stop the machine and take the “head” apart, a fussy project that requires three ungloved hands and a screwdriver. Then I have to start the machine again (return to the first problem). I hate this thing!
The sales person was busy and just wanted to check in my machine, but I made him listen. Turns out he had the perfect solution – a trade-in on an “E-Z start model” plus an optional head that allows me to replace short pieces of cutting line without disassembling anything. Incredibly, this wasn't a brand new innovation -- when I asked he told me that these options have been available for a few years.
It seems that Stihl (and my repair shop) have at least two different buyer personas – "beefy guys" who use power gardening tools in their jobs, have no problem starting machines with pull cords, and want a full spool of line. Then there’s me, the part-time gardener who has a different idea about value. Stihl has had a great answer to a problem that has been driving me crazy, but I couldn't find out about it.
When the sale was complete everyone won – the repair shop made their margin on the new tool, they have a used tool that they can rent or sell to a buyer who doesn't want to pay full price, their overworked repair shop can fix something else, and the manufacturer sold another unit to a now happy customer. But it only worked out because I interrupted the sales person’s standard process and asked him to solve my problem.
I wonder whether the marketing people at Stihl have invested anything at all in identifying the process I just described and thinking about how to reach each of their buyer personas, or if they’re happily doing their “checklist” marketing. They must know about my problem since they built a tool that is meant just for me, but have they thought about the best approach to reach me and deliver their message?
If you think this doesn’t apply to you because you market a complex solution to B2B customers, consider this. According to Marketing Sherpa’s 2007-08 Technology Benchmark Study, 80% of technology buyers had a problem and went looking for a supplier (the remaining 20% responded to a marketing program). I hope they can find you without a lot of trouble.